After a cavalry charge during the 1916 U.S. "war against Pancho Villa," unheroic awards officer Tom Thorn (who is obsessed with the nature of courage) recommends 4 men for the Medal of Honor. He is ordered back to Cordura with them...and prisoner Adelaide Geary, gringo who sheltered the enemy. On the arduous journey, Thorn's heroes show a different face, and Thorn may have one last chance to prove he's no coward. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Major Thorn improperly salutes Colonel DeRose in the opening scene when he dismissed. He should have saluted and held his salute until it was acknowledged. Instead, he lowers his arm even before Colonel Rose acknowledges it. See more »
Is "They Came to Codura" (1959) as ill conceived and poorly executed as it appears to be, or is it an ambitious and well-intentioned western that falls short because it over-reaches? The problem is that so few films are ambitious that our brains go into a stall when a rare effort like this comes along; we don't know quite how to evaluate it.
Compounding this is the extensive trimming that the film received prior to its release; this cutting may not have hurt anything (what was taken out wouldn't have made things clearer or transformed the performances into believable characterizations) but it no doubt accounts for the overall disjointed feel of the story.
Finally there is Glendon Swarthout's source novel of the same title, an allegorical story of human redemption that does not translate well to the screen as most of it takes place inside the tortured mind of the protagonist. The screen play follows the novel almost too closely, keeping Swarthout's weakest elements while replacing his devastatingly ironic ending with a tame "Flight of the Phoenix" finale.
So if (for whatever reason) you are thinking about viewing "They Came to Codura" don't expect a typical viewing experience. And don't expect a masterpiece because the mixed description in the first paragraph is a pretty accurate assessment of the film.
That doesn't mean don't watch. The surface story is reasonably entertaining and the themes are extremely interesting even if they are so poorly articulated that they lose much of the power that they should have had.
Like the novel, the film is set in 1916 Mexico with the U.S. Cavalry dashing about in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) is in charge of escorting five prospective Medal of Honor winners back to the base at Cordura where their heroics can be utilized to fan a recruitment campaign for the looming U.S. entry into WWI.
Thorn carries a lot of personal baggage into this assignment. The son of a famous soldier he is deeply ashamed of the cowardice he exhibited during a recent battle. It is his duty to interview each soldier during the journey and to then write up the commendations. His past performance causes him to over-compensate as a leader and to soon alienate most of the men under his command; Lt. Fowler (Tab Hunter), Sgt. Chawk (Van Heflin), Pvt. Hetherington (Michael Callan), Cpl. Trubee (Richard Conte), and Pvt. Renziehausen (Dick York). Being dragged along with the group is a woman named Adelaide (Rita Hayworth), an American expatriate accused of aiding the Villa.
This is not exactly a strong cast, especially for a film that is more character study than action adventure. To be successful, an adaptation of a multi-character novel must go one of two ways with those characters; #1 assemble an extremely talented cast who can nonverbally communicate characterization or, #2 mold most of the characters into movie stereotypes and single out 2-3 for more extensive development (placing your strongest actors in those roles). This film's downfall is that it takes a third path, as none of the characters are predictable movie stereotypes (in fact all seven are extremely strange) and only Hayworth is able to give her character some degree of plausible dimensionality.
Neither the setting nor the story is important. This could have been set anywhere at anytime. What is important is the theme, the nature of courage-its randomness, its situational nature, and its lack of correlation with other character traits. The "heroes" are slowly revealed to be opportunists, bullies, deadbeats, and degenerates, but an isolated act of heroism was their redemption. And the coward ends up behaving like a hero.
A variety of explanations for the individual acts of bravery are illustrated-recklessness, momentary insanity, accident, hatred, fear of being considered a coward, and a need for redemption. The point being that going above and beyond the call of duty is not something that can be predicted or relied upon, and that except for the last reason does alter the basic nature of the hero.
Unfortunately none (ZERO) of these characters ring even remotely true and with the irony stripped out of the ending, the result is a total failure in effectively illustrating the theme. So you watch, and if you can suspend disbelief it is possible to understand what the film is trying to say. But this is hardly great cinema and the viewer ultimately thinks more about the missed opportunity than about the mysteries of battlefield courage and human redemption.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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